THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR: It's a double feature this weekend at Michigan

Image via: Wiki Commons.

This week, the NASCAR Cup Series heads for the high banks of Michigan for the Firekeepers Casino 400. This will be NASCAR's second doubleheader of the season as they continue to draw closer and closer to the playoffs. Earlier in the summer, NASCAR announced the final races before the playoffs and in those number of races they announced that they will be running two doubleheaders. One this Saturday and Sunday at Michigan and another in a few weeks at Dover. We saw a double feature race earlier this year at Pocono, so it will be interesting to see here in a different set of circumstances at Michigan. This track is a two and half mile oval that races similarly to a track like Auto Club as they both have plenty of grooves and lanes to run on. With this aero package it should be interesting to see if the racing is similar to last year's.

It was announced this week that NASCAR would unveil their last batch of races for the remainder of 2020 and for the most part the season remains pretty much the same. Richmond will get back one of it's races that was cancelled and Phoenix Raceway will remain the season finale. NASCAR had made it clear that they were hoping to keep their playoff races intact and luckily they were able to. We will still get to see Martinsville decide who gets to race in the final four, and we will still see Bristol in the playoffs as well. The only question that remains now is will these races have fans? I have a feeling that at tracks like Las Vegas we will see no fans but on tracks like Texas and Bristol or Richmond, I have a feeling they will be much more lenient. Only time will tell as everything remains fluid.

It was announced on Thursday that Erik Jones will not return to the #20 car for Joe Gibbs in 2021. This clears a path for the next Gibbs driver in the pipeline, Christopher Bell. The writing had been on the wall for a while as Toyota and Joe Gibbs had too many drivers and not enough seats to fit all of them. The same thing happened back in 2017 when it was announced that Erik Jones would be replacing Matt Kenseth in the same car. While I hate to see Jones lose his ride, I think it will only be temporary as there are a bunch of good rides available. Besides, you have to feel as if he is now the favorite to replace Jimmie Johnson next season after Brad Keselowski announced he will be back at Penske next season.

Another headline that was announced this week was the changes that will be made to how the field will start at the Daytona Roval. NASCAR also announced Thursday that they would use weighted metrics to decide who starts on the front-row. The formula will consist of three criteria including, finishing position in the previous race, position in owner points, and fastest lap time in the race. None of this makes any sense to the average viewer. In fact, most of the drivers I would imagine don't understand it either. There were probably better ways of doing this including actual practice and qualifying. I can understand that NASCAR is trying to do everything in their power to make sure drivers are limited at the racetrack, but this is becoming more and more unnecessary by the week.

As I mentioned earlier, Erik Jones will be looking for a ride next season. What better way to prove you belong than by winning races and that's what I predict he will do this weekend at Michigan. This is a track that is special to him considering he is a native Michigander. While he hasn't had the best finishes here over the past few years, I will say he has been running well. Despite a lackluster 24th place finish at New Hampshire, before that he had rattled off back-to-back top tens with a fifth at Texas and a sixth at Kansas. I look for him to get back in the grove and get his third career win and leave a big impression on all the teams looking for a driver next season. Look for Erik Jones to win one of the races this weekend.

The other driver I have winning this weekend is Joey Logano. On Saturday, Logano will roll off first to begin the weekend. This is a track where Joey has been stellar at as well. He has won here four times including back in 2013 in a race that put Logano back on the map and began his reign at Penske. I look for him to get win #4 this weekend at Michigan.

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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